“Charlie Wilson’s War,” review by Susan Granger

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Ever wonder why we’re fighting in Afghanistan – and how we got involved there in the first place?

Investigative “60 Minutes” reporter George Crile came up with a surprising answer in his astute 2004 best-seller which Aaron Sorkin (“The American President,” TV’s “West Wing”) shrewdly adapts for the screen.

Apparently, it’s all because of Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), a swingin’ Democratic Congressman from East Texas. Seen naked in a hot tub, boozing and snorting with strippers in Las Vegas, Charlie is a male chauvinist, admittedly hiring his office staff based on their measurements and pulchritude. He’s also vulnerable, particularly when approached by a beautiful constituent like wealthy Houston socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), an outspoken anti-Communist who wants to arm the Afghan militia to fight the Russians who have invaded their country.

To that end, she arranges for Charlie to meet with Pakistan’s President Zia ul-Haq (Om Puri) in Islamabad and visit an Afghan refugee camp. At Charlie’s side is maverick CIA agent, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who cleverly brokers a covert deal for Israel to sell Russian-made weapons to the Afghan ‘freedom fighters’ – and the Soviet-made Stinger missiles convince Soviet troops to retreat in 1989. But by arming the ‘mujahedin,’ Charlie Wilson inadvertently set the stage for Al Qaeda and Islamic Fundamentalism.

To propel this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, geopolitical deal-making caper, Mike Nichols’ fast-paced direction takes an ironic, satirical, often shallow tone, as does Tom Hanks’ cynical “Good Time Charlie” characterization. Scene-stealing Philip Seymour Hoffman is terrific but Julia Roberts just coasts through, often eclipsed by Amy Adams (“Enchanted”) as Wilson’s long-suffering personal assistant.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Charlie Wilson’s War” is a lively, enlightening 8 – and the real Charlie Wilson is retired and living in Lufkin, Texas.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.